If you’re looking for a better job, a better salary, and international opportunities, learning a new language would be your first step towards success.
Do Multilingual People Earn More Money?
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, speaks English and Chinese. Michael Bloomberg, billionaire businessman and philanthropist, speaks English and Spanish. Leo Apotheker, of SAP and Hewlett Packard, is fluent in German, Dutch, French, English, and Hebrew. Paul Bulcke, President of Nestle, can communicate in Dutch, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and German. It’s extremely likely that the most successful people in your industry – whatever it is – speak more than one language.
This is partially due to the opportunities that knowing more than one language opens. For instance, as the leader of a global company present in 86 countries, Bulcke recognizes his multilingual expertise as a clear pro:
“Being multilingual creates a stronger connection with peers, employees, and consumers, which is critical for a business like ours.”
But language learning doesn’t only benefit workers who must establish close relationships with international stakeholders. Workers based in certain monolingual countries might have access to international opportunities, or opportunities from companies with an international presence and better salaries. Others, in multilingual countries, might have better and better-paying opportunities at a local level.
For instance, bilingual Canadians earn more than monolingual Canadians: for every $1,000 a monolingual francophone man earns in Quebec, one who knows but doesn't use English at work makes an additional $70, and one who knows and also uses English earns a further $139. For female workers, the difference is slightly more subtle, but still there.
What Language Should You Learn to Boost Your Earning Potential?
You might be wondering, what are the best languages to learn to be successful?
There isn’t a one-fits-all answer to this question. It varies greatly, depending on one’s industry and location.
For instance, for trade-related reasons, the Confederation of British Industry promotes the learning of French above any other language, especially after Brexit.
On the other hand, Spanish is the language of the fastest growing American market segment. So if you’re an American businessperson, that might be the best option for you.
Let’s take a look at the pros of different options:
English is the Internet’s Lingua Franca
If it’s not your mother tongue, I’d recommend you work to achieve English fluency. Not only is it the second most spoken language on earth, but it’s also the language most commonly used to bridge cross-cultural conversations.
In 1995, while exploring the idea of a constructed universal language (what Esperanto tried to be), Finnish IT specialist Juka Korpela referred to English as “the universal language on the Internet.“
Writing for Omniglot, Carlos Carrión Torres defended the idea of English as a lingua franca:
“English is without a doubt the actual universal language. It is the world's second largest native language, the official language in 70 countries, and English-speaking countries are responsible for about 40% of world's total GNP. English can be at least understood almost everywhere among scholars and educated people, as it is the world media language, and the language of cinema, TV, pop music and the computer world. All over the planet people know many English words, their pronunciation and meaning.”
The international teams I work with use English as their lingua franca. So, in a sense, every member of our company is an example of how learning a second language can open professional doors.
Mandarin Chinese, the Most Spoken Language on Earth
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language on earth and the official language of an industrial powerhouse. Learning Mandarin Chinese can translate into opportunities in some of the companies leading the way in tech and manufacturing.
Mandarin Chinese is spoken by approximately one billion people located across China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Philippines, and Mongolia. 14% of the world population speaks this language, and it can open doors for you in more places than just China.
Chances Are You Know Someone Who Speaks Spanish
Spanish is the fourth most spoken language on earth, but it’d be second on the list if only native speakers were considered. Spanish is the official language of 20 countries distributed in three continents and has a strong presence even in countries where it’s not the official language. A clear example would be the United States. Marketing a consumer good in the United States without localizing it for Hispanic audiences means losing a demographic of millions of people with a great and growing buying power.
Plus by learning Spanish, you are also making it easier to learn Portuguese, Italian, French or any other Romance language.
Arabic Is Your Golden Ticket to the Middle East
Arabic is the fifth most-spoken language on earth. The Middle East is rich in resources and the UAE is growing at an amazing rate. It’s also worth noting that Arabic is rarely spoken as a second language, which is a clear plus. It’s a highly useful, rare skill, which adds up to its “market value”.
Not only does Arabic facilitate incredible professional opportunities, but it also eases the learning of other languages, since it shares vocabulary with Urdu, Turkish and Farsi. Since Arab is in the same linguistic family as Hebrew, it also makes grasping Hebrew’s grammar far easier.
German: The Most Sought-After Language in Tech & Trade
According to the aforementioned report by the British Council:
“Germany is the world’s third largest contributor to research and development, making German particularly important for scientific research and placing it in second place after English as the most important scientific language.”
Some 45% of trade-related job postings in the UK mention German as, if not a requirement, a clear plus.
Due to its commercial, technological, financial and diplomatic relevance, I don’t hesitate to say that if you’re European and aspire to get far in any of those fields, German is a must.
Be Ahead of the Curve: Learn Hindi
“India has emerged as the fastest growing major economy in the world and is expected to be one of the top three economic powers of the world over the next 10-15 years, backed by its strong democracy and partnerships. India’s GDP is estimated to have increased 7.2 percent in 2017-18 and 7 percent in 2018-19.”
As the home of more than 4,750 tech start-ups, India is full of opportunities. And, especially in Europe and the Americas, Hindi is a rare second language.
Whatever Your Industry, Russian Is a Plus
As the native language of 140-150 million people, the eighth most used language on the internet, and one of the UN’s official languages, Russian is an interesting choice, to say the least.
Russia is a BRIC country: One of the four greatest growing economies in the world. And, with its enormous territory and singular past, it is as rich in culture as it is in natural resources.
Whether you’re a history professor or a petroleum engineer, learning Russian could be the key to the career you’ve always dreamed of.
British journalist Bridget Kendall once said that deciding to learn Russian was probably “the best decision she ever made”:
“Not only did it unlock the door to a wonderful culture (…) it also meant I got the chance to study there for two years and see a side of Russian life which – because of the Cold War – was almost unknown to foreigners. Being able to speak Russian helped launch me into my first job at the BBC and later into a career as a foreign correspondent, reporting first hand on the collapse of the Soviet Union, covering Washington politics, and travelling the globe to report from war zones and diplomatic summits, refugee camps and presidential palaces.”
Join a Diverse and Innovative Economy, Learn Japanese
Japan has the third biggest economy in the world and is the second largest investor in research and technology. As a leader in tech, the automotive sector and entertainment with international cultural and economic influence, it has innumerable opportunities for people of all walks of life.
A clear example, quoted in the British Council’s report on “Languages for the Future”, is retired international soccer player Gary Lineker:
“Speaking Spanish and Japanese has opened doors in my career and helped me bridge cultural differences, both in my personal and business life. […] During my football career I realised quickly what difference language skills can make.”
In Conclusion: Languages Can Advance Your Career
I grew up with a strong interest in languages. And as CEO of a translation company, I continued my language learning. Now, as a speaker of six languages, I’m able to easily communicate with co-workers, partners, and clients in more than 30 countries, without the help of our interpreters. This has made it possible for me to create invaluable business relationships and play a key role in establishing my company’s reputation internationally.